I think every dental professional would agree that it’s always exciting to get a new patient into your practice.
However, just getting that new patient through the door isn’t enough. You’ve got to continue to woo them through their first appointment so that their positive experience leaves them satisfied and wanting to return for future visits (and maybe even tell their friends or family about your practice!).
That means you need to have your first appointment “routine” down pat. From the way a patient is greeted when they walk through the door, to the (hopefully, short!) time in the reception area, the walk to the exam room, and the exam itself everything should be run like a well-oiled machine. This means the whole practice team should understand the expectations of how to treat a new patient.
To ensure each new patient feels like the only new patient your practice has ever had, utilizing a new patient onboarding strategy like the one below can be the difference between a forever patient and one who decides to try out the practice down the street in six months.
- Start with a name:
Whoever works at the front desk should have the day’s schedule open at all times so they can be prepared for all patients coming in for the day. That schedule should include the patient’s full name and clearly indicate any new patients for a day. This way the receptionist, office manager, etc. can be sure to clearly greet the new patient by name, welcome them to your practice and provide them with any new patient information promptly—all without the patient needing to ask for it.
- Treat them like a guest in your home:
Once the initial greeting has ended invite the patient to take a seat and get comfortable in your reception area, offer them any snacks or beverages you may provide (even if it’s just water), let them know where the restroom is if they would need it, and ensure them that their appointment will begin shortly. They’ll appreciate knowing you’ve thought of all the questions they may have and feel more relaxed in the new setting.
- Perfect the transition points:
When calling a new patient back for their appointment again be sure to greet them by name and then promptly introduce yourself. As you guide them to the exam room keep the conversation light—thank them for choosing your practice and ask them how they’re doing. By this point you should be in the exam room and ready for the appointment to start. The same goes for after the appointment. Walk the patient back to the front desk and give them any instructions they’ll need before they can head out. This way they won’t feel uncertain about what to do before they leave.
- Get the patient comfortable:
Before you start the exam get the patient comfortable by telling them in plain language what you’ll be doing during the appointment (if it’s just a routine cleaning it can be brief) and then ask the patient if they have any questions or concerns. This is especially important for patients with dental anxiety. It gives them a chance to familiar with a new practice’s routines and let you know anything that could affect the way you care for them during the appointment.
- Let your skills do the talking:
While it’s nice to keep some casual dialogue going during the appointment make sure that it’s not to a point of making a patient uncomfortable. Conversation is invaluable to building a relationship with patients but not at the expense of their comfort. Instead, keep them happy with your dental skills that keep the appointment moving forward and leave them with a mouth and teeth that feel fresh and clean.
- Close the deal with talk of the future:
Once the appointment is all but finished and you’re handing over their goodie bag, now is the time to talk about their next appointment. The best way to do this is with a simple statement and question like “Well, we certainly enjoyed having you here for your first visit—can we get your next appointment set up?” Not everyone will be ready to plan something that far ahead, but this helps avoid the “one and done” feeling that patients can experience on a first time visit. They should walk out the door thinking about the next time they’ll be back.
Does this strategy for onboarding new patients sound familiar to you? Do you have a similar routine that you use and have found successful? Or are you feeling like your practice could use some brushing up on new patient protocol? If so, taking time to gather as a team and go over this strategy could be a great way to improve patient retention and relationships.